We're confident we can still win the series, asserts Flintoff

At least England are making no excuses. The time for those, they recognise, is long past. Whatever the mood is like inside the squad, whoever tickles whose fancy, wherever they go for dinner, the harsh truth is that when the second Test begins at the Sir Vivian Richards Ground on Friday they have to start playing proper international cricket.

There can be no more faffing around planning for some distant day when everything will come together. The future, as the side's most capped player indicated yesterday, really does have to start on Friday. If being bowled out for 51 does nothing for the self-esteem it sure concentrates the mind.

"This is a test of character for the lads," said Andrew Flintoff. "You can talk about technique, you can go in the nets but this is about people and how they respond to what has just happened. We have to come back strongly on Friday."

Flintoff said it again and again: the match will be about character. Of course, the rampant West Indies may have something to say about it as well but it is the tourists who must somehow regain their composure and their self-respect.

At 1-0 down in the series they have to play a brand of cricket that has eluded them for perhaps three years. If there was a faint whiff of desperation in Flintoff's words the abundant fighting qualities in his own personality were manifest.

"As bad as it was in Jamaica it was the first of four and we can still win the series and I genuinely believe we can. We have got to start scoring our runs and taking our wickets. I am confident we can do that but we have to show it."

Flintoff rigorously followed the party line in refusing to lay the blame on events preceding the tour. He also took the opportunity to stipulate that his relationship with Kevin Pietersen is simply fine and dandy, and as if to emphasise the point the pair of them were seen laughing raucously together moments later. Oh, what chums.

There is little doubt that England are telling the truth as they see it, that indeed they are a solid unit of men who know their jobs. The trouble is that they have just lost by an innings and 23 runs the first match of a series for which they had been installed as overwhelming favourites. A degree of scepticism is therefore inevitable about the precise nature of their team spirit.

Perhaps it should have come as no surprise that they did not win the match in Jamaica last weekend. England have played an astonishing 14 consecutive series without winning the opening Test. Of that 14, they have lost seven including most famously the first Test of the 2005 Ashes when this bizarre little run started.

It must suggest something about preparation and mindset. Maybe they are not as ready as they think they are, maybe they need a kick up the bottom to get going.

Their preparations for the second Test were hardly helped yesterday when they were told they could not practice at the Sir Vivian Richards ground but were moved to the grand old Test arena, the Antiguan Recreation. It had atmosphere – there were hundreds of England fans there – but the nets were fairly makeshift and the local net bowlers turned up late.

"You look at something like that in Jamaica," said Flintoff. "You've still got to back your game and how good a player you are, but this is a big Test. I think it would be easy to look at what happened four weeks ago and hide behind that. But there have been no distractions, we can't go back on those, we got outplayed. The spirit has been good but maybe we need to draw on each other a little bit more."

Flintoff at least found a semblance of batting form in the Kingston match. He batted for more than three hours in the first innings and was top scorer in the abject second, the only man to reach double figures.

"Jerome Taylor bowled well and somehow we couldn't stop the rot," he said. "We just kept going on and on. I don't think I have been involved in an innings like that where we just couldn't do anything. I've been in early before 16 for four. In that sort of situation where you lose wickets usually you get one partnership but we couldn't even manage that. The wickets kept tumbling."

While he was about, Flintoff denied he had been a miserable so and so for the first two weeks of the tour. Indeed his mood does seem lighter. Maybe he and Pietersen are best pals.

"Sides who perform well over a period of time are the ones who everyone says have a good relationship between them. It's a challenge and I know that we're all up for it." The alternative hardly bears contemplation.

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